Gardening with children with autism is a great way to build functional skills, communication skills and independent living skills. The 6 tips in this post will make gardening with children with autism easy and fun. I love gardening with the kids at my learning center and I am sure that you will love gardening with your kids or students too. If your child loves sensory activities, try these sensory activities for autism next!
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Getting started gardening with children with autism
Gardening is one of my favorite activities for children with special needs. All you need to get started is a place where you can grow plants, such as a backyard, city garden or even a spot inside with lots of natural light.
The tips below will work in a traditional garden, if you are creating a kids vegetable garden or even if your plan is to make a kids indoor garden.
6 tips to make gardening with children with autism easy & fun :
1. Use a visual schedule gardening with children with autism to set your child up for success in the activity and to help your child follow through will all of the steps to completion of the activity.
Gardening steps : Select plant → make a hole in the dirt with the shovel → plant the plant in the hole → water!
I made a free printable visual schedule that you can use to make gardening with your child with autism, or the children in your autism class, easier and more fun.
Download your free printable gardening visual schedule below.
2. Plant small plants (rather than seeds).
When a child plants a small plant, he or she sees the result right away. Tada – a garden! When a child plants seeds, he or she must wait and wait and wait… for a result that will come in several weeks. This concept is abstract and hard for children with autism to understand.
Some children won’t be bothered by waiting, but particularly with younger kids, I recommend planting small plants so that your child will see a beautiful and reinforcing result immediately after participating in the gardening activity!
Whether you are planting flowers or a children’s vegetable garden, planting small plants rather than seeds will make the activity more engaging and fun for your kids.
3. Use lots of colors when gardening with children with autism.
It’s so much more fun to create a garden if it is full of fun and beautiful colors! Children with autism, and also a variety of other special needs, tend to be drawn to the sensory aspect of colorful flowers. The colors will help to keep the children engaged in the activity, while also providing sensory input while gardening.
4. Add small objects to your garden.
When gardening with kids with autism, consider decorating your garden with small objects.
A word of caution : if you have a child that tends to mouth small items, make sure you are aware of this and supervise the activity at all times.
By using small decorative items in your child’s garden, you will make it more beautiful, increase your child’s motivation to participate in creating, and maintaining the garden, and increase opportunities to build your child’s language skills. (“Look a rabbit!” “What is that? A toad!”)
5. When watering the flowers, fill the watering can with the exact amount of water you need at any given time.
This will help your child avoid overwatering plants as young kids have a tendancy to empty out the watering can on the flowers. If you have already planned the amount of available water, you won’t have to worry if your child dumps it all out on the plants! This helps the activity go more smoothly for everyone.
As touching water, and even watching it drip, can be a highly stimulating sensory activity for your child, having too much water available can cause your child to become overly stimulated. Another great reason to plan for the exact amount of water you will need for watering the plants at any given time!
6. Keep a gardening journal with your child.
This is my favorite step because I adore journaling but also because I think that using a journal with your child is such a fabulous family tradition and tool for increasing communication, fun and all kinds of learning!
Learn more about using a journal as a therapeutic tool for your family with these daily .
Why garden? Benefits of gardening in early childhood
There are many benefits linked to gardening for kids.
- It teaches children to eat healthier food early in life.
- Gardening is an enriching and engaging activity that also provides an opportunity for exercise.
- This type of interactive activity can help develop self confidence and self esteem.
- Gardening helps encourage the development of reasoning and other intellectual skills.
- It is a natural stress reliever!
- Gardening can help develop memory and other cognitive skills.
- It can help make kids happier.
Kids gardening tools
To help kids get involved gardening, I highly recommend getting a children’s gardening set that is the correct size for your child and allows him or her to participate in each activity fully.
Creating a garden with toddlers
Many garden activities for perfect to do with toddlers. If gardening with very small children, all of the tips still apply. Make sure you use the visual schedule I provided for you to organize your garden activity, switch activities quickly to keep your child’s attention and have fun!
Gardening activities for preschoolers
If you are gardening with preschoolers, there are many fun activities you can incorporate into your gardening activity. Follow all of my above tips. You could also use gardening as a sensory break activity with these sensory break cards.
Creating a kids indoor garden
You will need plants, containers, watering cans and a light source for growing plants indoors. Even with access to natural light, you will need to make sure you choose plants that require less natural light to have indoor gardening success. Find more tips for indoor gardeners here.
Creating a kids vegetable garden
When planning for a children’s vegetable garden, choose vegetables that are easy to grow. Beets, radishes, tomatoes and carrots work well!
Our mini garden
When I am planting with my little learners at my autism center in Paris, I lay out all of the plants to make it easier for the kids to choose the plant they want to plant in the soil in the garden.
These photos are of our plants waiting to be planted. Aren’t the colors beautiful?!
What do you think about these 6 tips for gardening with children with autism?
Anything to add? Leave your tips in the comments below!
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